Wisconsin Republicans vote to kill Medicaid expansion

May 10, 2019

Wisconsin Democratic state Rep. Chris Taylor, center, speaks in support of Gov. Tony Evers' plan to expand Medicaid as Sen. John Erpenbach, left, and Rep. Evan Goyke, listen Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Madison, Wis.

MADISON Wisconsin Republicans voted Thursday to scrap expanding Medicaid, legalizing medical marijuana, raising the minimum wage and a host of other priorities of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers as they begin dismantling his two-year budget plan.

Evers and Democrats remain defiant, saying the public is on their side in support of expanding Medicaid. They ran on their promise to expand the health program for the poor and believe their victories in 2018 were due in large part to that position. Polls also show broad public support.

"Medicaid is being removed in this first motion because you're losing," said Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke. "This is a popular item supported by the people of the state of Wisconsin and every single day it's getting more popular."

But Republicans who control the Legislature aren't bending from their long-held opposition, which they believe is popular with their base of supporters, even as some GOP lawmakers have publicly talked about trying to find a compromise. State Rep. John Nygren, the Republican co-chair of the budget committee, said Thursday that he wouldn't compromise on taking something less than full expansion, rejecting that as "Medicaid light."

Democratic members of the committee said they were open to reaching a deal, but Republicans were not offering any alternatives.

"No is not a compromise," Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach said. "No is not a place to start. No is irresponsible, reckless. It's hard to negotiate with someone who just says 'No.'"

In response to Democratic criticism that rejecting expansion hurt poor people, Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany said: "I do not have a moral problem."

"We have been responsible to the taxpayers of the state of Wisconsin and we have done the right thing," he said.

The GOP-controlled budget committee voted along party lines to kill Medicaid expansion and a host of Evers' other priorities with one of its first votes Thursday. In the coming weeks, the Joint Finance Committee will be voting to reshape the $83 billion Evers budget into something Republicans can vote for later this summer.

Evers said the vote was disappointing but "not the end."

"I'm going to keep reminding Wisconsinites what's at stake and I'm going to keep fighting to expand Medicaid," he said.

Republicans are refusing to listen to the will of the people or work together, and Wisconsin residents will pay the price, Evers said.

He's already released data showing how each of the state's 72 counties would benefit from accepting $324 million in federal money for expansion, which would leverage $1.6 billion in more spending on health care across the state. Of that, $836 million comes at no cost to the state.

That includes increasing reimbursement rates for doctors and other health care providers, raising county aid for crisis mental health and substance abuse services, and spending more on women's health care initiatives, dental health care and fighting lead poisoning.

To date, Wisconsin has missed out on $1.1 billion in federal money for Medicaid expansion. It is one of only 13 states that have not accepted Medicaid expansion money and the only one that did a partial expansion without taking the money.

The Republican moves will create a $1.4 billion hole in the budget, roughly the amount Evers proposed spending on K-12 education. Republicans have already said they weren't on board with spending that much on schools. Republicans will have to come up with other cuts, or tax increases, to make up the difference.

Under the Evers plan, about 82,000 people are expected to become Medicaid-eligible as the income cutoff increases from 100% of poverty to 138%. That would raise eligible annual income from $25,750 for a family of four to $35,535. For a single person, it would increase from $12,490 to $17,236.

Of those 82,000, about half are buying heavily subsidized plans through the marketplace now. Part of the Republican argument against expansion is it doesn't make sense to put people on Medicaid when they can buy affordable plans through the exchange. Republicans also say the move would disrupt the private insurance market, and that they're concerned the federal government will decrease its reimbursement to the state, leaving taxpayers to foot a larger bill for more people on Medicaid.

Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, which supports Medicaid expansion, said removing the plan from the budget now doesn't mean the fight is over.

"Until the governor signs his budget, it's not final," Kraig said. "It's going to be a long debate and there's still plenty of time for the public to be heard."

New Wisconsin attorney general shifts agency's priorities

In this Thursday, May 9, 2019 photo, Josh Kaul, Wisconsin's new Democratic attorney general,
sits in his Capitol office conference room in Madison, Wis.

MADISON, Wis.  Wisconsin's new Democratic attorney general has used his first four months in office to shift the state Department of Justice to a more liberal footing, pleasing supporters by nullifying his Republican predecessor's attempts to kill federal health care reforms and limit environmental protections.

Josh Kaul's moves have Republicans complaining that they can't trust him to defend GOP-authored laws and regulations. Indeed, the difference between Kaul and former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel couldn't be starker.

"Time and again Attorney General Kaul has refused to do his job and instead sided with liberal special interest groups that are aiming to reverse state law," Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said.

Kaul denied that he's being ideological, but he acknowledged that he and Schimel have "different views of what it is in the best interests of Wisconsinites."

Schimel emerged as a hardline conservative during his four years in office, joining a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act and penning a legal opinion that a 2011 Republican-authored law bars state agencies from imposing environmental permitting regulations that go beyond what state statutes specifically allow.

The opinion drove the Department of Natural Resources to relax permit requirements for factory farms and high-capacity water wells, sparking anger from liberals and two lawsuits from environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin.

Kaul promised on the campaign trail that he would defend state laws if he could make a case for them. At the same time, he vowed to withdraw Wisconsin from the ACA lawsuit and end the state's opposition to stricter permits in the high-capacity wells case.

He went on to narrowly defeat Schimel in November, but Republicans who control the Legislature moved quickly to kneecap both him and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, convening a lame-duck session weeks before the two took office and weakening their powers. One of the lame-duck laws prevented the Kaul and Evers from withdrawing the state from lawsuits, which stopped them from fulfilling their campaign promises to get Wisconsin out of the Affordable Care Act challenge.

After a judge ruled that the law violated the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches, though, Evers directed Kaul to withdraw from the lawsuit and he complied. An appeal of that ruling is pending before the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court, but Kaul has seized the opening and moved to withdraw Wisconsin from other lawsuits, too.

He has dropped the state's appeal of a 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision declaring that federal law blocks provisions in Wisconsin's "right-to-work" law, which prohibits companies and unions from signing contracts that would require workers to pay dues or fees to the unions that represent them. Schimel had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.

Kaul also has withdrawn Wisconsin from a multistate lawsuit challenging a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cost-benefit analysis that found that regulating air pollutants, including mercury, would be reasonable because the costs of implementing new control technology wouldn't raise retail electricity costs beyond historical ranges.

He also has joined a multistate lawsuit seeking to block Trump administration rules barring taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from referring patients to abortion providers. And this month, Kaul changed the Wisconsin DOJ's stance in the factory farms and high-capacity wells cases, switching from defending Schimel's opinion to aligning with Clean Wisconsin. He also pulled Wisconsin out of another multistate lawsuit alleging that the EPA is interpreting the Clean Waters Act too strictly.

Rick Esenberg, the president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative law firm, said Kaul's actions threaten to further politicize the attorney general's office.

"Sure, it's a partisan office. But we're also electing a lawyer for the state of Wisconsin," Esenberg said. "It doesn't mean he should do whatever he wants according to his (political stance). I don't want to call him disingenuous. I think what he said (during the campaign) was the right thing to say and that is now what he should do."

Attorney Lester Pines, who often handles cases on behalf of Democratic lawmakers, said Schimel and his predecessor, Republican J.B. Van Hollen, spent 12 years advancing a right-wing agenda.

"The people of Wisconsin elected an attorney general to once again represent the public's interest," Pines said. "That is what Attorney General Kaul is doing. It's about time."

Kaul defended his actions, saying in an interview that he has stuck to the parameters for defending state law that he laid out during his campaign: If there's a strong legal argument supporting the law, he will fight for it in court. He pointed out that he is defending Republican-drawn legislative boundaries in a federal lawsuit.

Otherwise, his decisions are based on whether the law or policy in question hurts Wisconsin residents, he said. For example, he said, striking down the ACA would end coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and young adults currently on their parents' insurance, the EPA challenges would hurt the environment if they're successful and Trump's abortion restrictions would reduce access to health care.

"My approach has been that Wisconsin should be involved if the law or policy is harmful to the interests of the state of Wisconsin and Wisconsinites, and if there's a strong legal basis for the challenge," Kaul said. "And that is the approach we've applied both in deciding what to challenge and where to withdraw from challenges."

Wisconsin Republicans votes to scrap Evers proposals

MADISON The Republican-controlled Wisconsin budget committee voted along party lines Thursday to remove many of Gov. Tony Evers' most significant proposals from his state budget. Removal kills them for now, but they could be added back later or passed as separate legislation.

Here's what the proposals deleted from the budget would do:

Expand Medicaid to cover an estimated 82,000 more poor people as part of a plan that would leverage additional federal money to spend an additional $1.6 billion on health care in Wisconsin.

Legalize medical marijuana and de-criminalize the possession, manufacture and distribution of up to 25 grams of pot.

Cap enrollment in private voucher schools starting in 2021.

Increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.50 by 2023 and tie increases after that point to inflation.

All-but eliminate a tax credit for manufacturers, which would save the state an estimated $516.6 million but which Republicans paint as a proposed tax increase on job creators.

Repeal the state's minimum markup on gasoline, which inflates the cost of gas to deter unfair competition. The committee was not striking Evers' proposed 8-cent gas tax increase that's part of his transportation-funding plan, but changes to that were expected to be made later.

Make driver's licenses available and grant in-state tuition to immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Create automatic voter registration.

Treat 17-year-olds as juveniles for most crimes, rather than as adults, as they are currently.

Borrow up to $40 million to help cover the cost of replacing lead pipes, primarily in Milwaukee.

Repeal the "right to work" law passed under former Republican Gov. Scott Walker. That law prohibits requirements for workers to pay fees covering a share of the costs of union representation.

End a tax deduction for private school tuition.

Close the so-called "dark stores loophole," which allows big box retailers to save millions in property taxes by assessing the value of their active stores as if they were vacant.

Restore powers that Republicans stripped from Evers and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul during a lame-duck session in December.

End a freeze on property tax levies for counties and municipalities, allowing them to increase their levies by 2%.


Associated Press